Justin Timberlake's 'The 20/20 Experience': What The Critics Are Saying
Easily one of the most anticipated albums of 2013, Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience hit iTunes Monday ahead of its March 19 release date. After nearly seven years since his last album, Timberlake seemingly had a lot to prove. With 10 tracks averaging seven minutes apiece, The 20/20 Experience shows how far JT has come since Future Sex/Lovesounds.
Billboard's Jason Lipshutz called the album "one of the weirdest -- and most fully realized -- efforts in ages. There will be many people longing for the immediacy of songs like 'My Love' and 'Rock Your Body,' but Timberlake has offered us something more complicated, although no less accessible."
Most critics focused on how unique and different the new album was. Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone said, "Its sense of musical space-time is more elastic and sprawling than anything on the radio ... Songs unfurl into vamps, abruptly change keys, pile on unexpected beats and harmonies. The music is catchy, but the emphasis is on rhythm and flow."
Rosen continued: "The 20/20 Experience may test the patience of fans expecting immediate gratification. There are no songs as instantly infectious as 'Like I Love You' or 'SexyBack,' nothing that cuts as deep as 'Cry Me a River' or 'My Love.' But eventually the music sinks its teeth in, even on the wooziest of songs."
The Huffington Post agreed, saying, "At first listen, a number of songs offer what fans of Timbaland would expect: A great deal of bold drum work reminiscent of the producer's work on Timberlake's 'My Love,' with the added benefit of a slightly more electronic sound that modernizes the project."
The New York Daily News said that "the album's sound comes as no surprise" but does "have its twists" and praised JT's patience and willingness to take his time. "The general familiarity of the sound suggests a star who feels he has little to prove on this, his first album since entering his 30s. That might seem arrogant had the 32-year-old’s first two solo albums not established such a striking track record. The assurance shows best in his vocals, which here achieve a balletic grace. He Fred Astairs his way through these tracks, dancing over their melody with the air of an acrobat. It all serves the persona he has adopted and, by now, perfected -- a lover able to balance a boyish eagerness with a manly talent."
Several of the critics noticed Timberlake's confidence with this release. MTV's James Montgomery said "The 20/20 Experience is just an album ... even if it does come after a near seven-year hiatus from music. And in that regard, it is a tremendous triumph, an artfully anachronistic effort from Timberlake that eschews just about every preconceived notion of popular music in 2013 -- radio-friendly running times, a dearth of actual instrumentation, etc -- and confidently carves out its own niche. It's part Frank Sinatra, part Frank Ocean, and it plays out gradually, languidly, as if JT and Timbaland never want the party to end. Is it perhaps too long? Sure. Will it mystify a portion of his fanbase? Undoubtedly. But you get the feeling Timberlake could care less."
While Entertainment Weekly praised the album for sticking to the "JT formula: golden falsetto, electro-R&B grooves," they argued the album was too slow over all. The album was "lacking in the flashy tap-dance energy that made him a giant solo success when he was 23. Maybe he wants to be the young Frank Sinatra."
EW also compares the album to Timberlake's foray into acting during his musical hiatus, saying, "Even when Timberlake’s not singing his way through a big-screen drama on 20/20, the music has a cool, cinematic vibe."
Rob Harvilla of SPIN said, "He was creatively spent, justifiably smug, and entirely self-satisfied post-FutureSex, willing to leave the blackjack table at the perfect time, as almost no still-alive pop stars are willing to do."
Harvilla's fellow editor Brandon Soderberg disagreed, stating, "These are tedious half-formed songs buttressed by capitol-A album moves and a whole industry that really, really, really wants this guy to succeed, again."
Like many critics of the album, USA Today called The 20/20 Experience a tribute to Timberlake's new wife Jessica Biel. "The new collection picks up where 2006's FutureSex/LoveSounds left off and, eventually, explores love and sex from the perspective of a more mature chap."
The 20/20 Experience is streaming now on iTunes, and the album officially is released March 19.